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Rising Academy reborn with phoenix symbol

Photo courtesy of Talent Middle School Dahlia Cardillo, a seventh-grader at Talent Middle School, created the artwork recently selected as the mascot and logo for the Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy.

PHOENIX — Dahlia Cardillo’s digitally created artwork was recently selected as the mascot and logo for the Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy, solidifying the phoenix as a symbol of aspiration to emerge better than before.

Rachel and Mica Cardillo said their daughter Dahlia, a seventh-grader at Talent Middle School, “has a natural gift of creativity and generosity of spirit that allows her to come up with these artistic pieces that seem to speak to people.”

The phoenix image anchors the school Facebook page and will grace all school-related merchandise and communications necessitating a logo, said school district spokesman Joe Zavala.

Teachers invited students to participate in selecting a mascot for the school, then settled on the student-generated idea of the phoenix, said Aaron Santi, principal at Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy. Several students submitted creative concepts for the design, and staff selected the submission from Dahlia, an alumnus of the original program.

The Phoenix-Talent School District created the program in 2020 as a remote learning option for students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program was reformed as its own school this year, with hybrid in-person and remote learning options tailored to family needs, according to its website.

Santi said the intention behind Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy was to provide an alternative educational format for families that frequently travel, have health concerns or various other reasons they may not want a child attending entirely in-person school.

“There’s a segment of our population that it really serves their need and their interest,” he said.

Rachel Cardillo said her daughter’s art and craft projects have served as useful tools for coping during the pandemic, as enrollment in Phoenix-Talent Rising meant Dahlia often missed her friends. But facing the risk of COVID-19 exposure, they made the difficult decision to keep their children home — waiting until the last day to register in the hope that virus case numbers would drop and the burden on hospitals would ease.

Both children returned to brick-and-mortar school for the second term this year, but during the worst of the pandemic, having the Phoenix-Talent Rising program available was a relief, Rachel said — despite the struggle as a parent to recall sixth-grade math.

“I’m truly grateful that the district was able to put resources behind it to provide an alternative to families dealing with both COVID and the aftermath of the fires,” Rachel said. “To have Dahlia’s artwork chosen to represent the program is all the more meaningful to me because it provided us with a kind of safe haven when we needed it.”

Dahlia said she is pleased to be back in school, where art and math are her favorite subjects, because it’s easier to focus there compared to the distractions of her bedroom.

Teacher Heather Ayers-Flood said Dahlia is a strong student and artist, and the school is proud to carry on her legacy with Phoenix-Talent Rising by showcasing the phoenix masterpiece.

During the mascot selection process, discussion about the phoenix as a symbol touched on the community theme of rising from the ashes, inspiration and honoring the community’s struggle after the Almeda fire, Santi said.

Among the community, the phoenix became somewhat of a controversial figure over time, prompting conversations about whether the symbol was a frightening visual and constant reminder of a horrific event, Mica and Rachel said.

“I think the fact that it’s coming out as something that the kids identify with and they want to put forth is a really positive way to use and embrace that symbol,” Mica said.

Dahlia’s phoenix project was a prime example of the family’s commitment to holistic learning and challenging all parts of the brain, Mica said, as she leveraged both artistic talent and digital software skills to create the design.

“I saw what a phoenix looked like in my brain and drew it,” Dahlia said.

Using the program “ibisPaint X” on her iPad, Dahlia said she appreciated the flexibility to undo actions, try different colors and use digital tools to create symmetry.

“There is that creativity aspect combined with the ability to use technology, and I think that’s what she was able to do with making that logo that surprised people,” Mica said. “It wasn’t just a drawing, she was able to use the tools to make it happen.”

Since Dahlia won the Pear Blossom Mayor's Cup Fun Run T-shirt design contest with a hand-drawn design, Mica said this recent project reflects an evolution of her ability to create in different ways, and exemplifies how students can cultivate skills using a digital device as a tool in a positive way.

Reach reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497.